New Zealanders Demand Inquiry into Afghan Civilian Deaths During 2010 SAS Raid

August 26th, 2017 - by admin

TVNZ & Stuff & Radio New Zealand – 2017-08-26 01:22:24

https://www. tvnz. co. nz/one-news/new-zealand/protesters-demand-independent-inquiry-into-alleged-afghan-civilian-deaths-during-sas-raid

Protesters Demand Independent Inquiry into
Alleged Afghan Civilian Deaths During SAS Raid

Rosa Woods / 1 News Now at TVNZ

Co-Director of ActionStation Marianne Elliott says the Government has stalled on calling an inquiry, hoping public interest would die off.
Source: 1 NEWS

(August 21, 2017) — The claims were made in the book Hit & Run by authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson. They released the book in March, claiming the SAS were involved in the death of six Afghan civilians, including a child.

Co-Director of ActionStation, Marianne Elliott spoke at the Hit & Run Campaign gathering today, saying the Government has denied calls for an independent inquiry and has stalled in the hope public interest would die off.

“New Zealand prides itself on being a force of good in the world. It is never comfortable to admit that we have also sometimes been a force for great suffering and harm, but avoiding the truth doesn’t make it go away,” Ms Elliott said.

Nicky Hager said despite the evidence, the Defence Force continues to claim nothing went wrong in Afghanistan.

“What we’re seeing is people in high places, at least some of them knowingly lying to the public and we’re in the middle of a very serious cover-up,” he said.

Last week, lawyers representing Afghan villagers allegedly caught up in the raid filed proceedings in the Wellington High Court, trying to force the Government to hold an independent investigation.

Questions over Controversial Programme Involving NZ Troops
Paula Penfold and Eugene Bingham / Stuff

The Valley, a six-part investigation by Stuff Circuit. WATCH the video here.

FAIRFAX, New Zealand (August 23 2017) — New Zealanders “had a right to know what our troops were actually doing in our name in Afghanistan”, says a human rights activist who worked on a UN mission in Afghanistan.

The comments come in the wake of revelations that New Zealand soldiers were routinely involved in a controversial biometric testing programme in Afghanistan.

The Stuff Circuit documentary series The Valley exposes that New Zealand soldiers were involved in the intelligence-gathering programme that the public never knew about. It involved going into villages with a handheld device, taking eye scans and recording fingerprints.

Marianne Elliott, a lawyer who served in the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said intelligence gathering is not inconsistent with the operating principles of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), but “it is at odds with the widely held public perception that our troops were in Afghanistan predominantly to undertake reconstruction activities”.

“This perception wasn’t formed by accident. I think it’s fair to say that it was the clear intention of the media strategy of the [Defence Force] to give this impression”.

Former Chief of Defence, Retired Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, admitted New Zealand soldiers were involved in the programme throughout their deployment to Afghanistan, but said, “It wasn’t a secret. It was probably just [one] of the things we did we weren’t told back here in New Zealand”.

Jones said New Zealand soldiers were focused on males aged 15-70 — the group known as ‘fighting age males’ — and admitted that they also scanned dead people, “to find out who they were, to be able to match that database, so who is this person that’s been killed in a firefight and was carrying a weapon, or was around an IED site? Do we have information on them already?”

A former top intelligence official in Kabul said New Zealand PRT soldiers were using a device called “Seek”, and that the data was uploaded to ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, which New Zealand forces in Afghanistan operated under, but then shared with the CIA.

Though Jones maintains the programme wasn’t a secret, there has been no reporting of it in New Zealand, and a search of Parliamentary records revealed just two obscure references to the use of biometric equipment by the New Zealand Defence Force, and neither were in relation to operations in Afghanistan.

Even a former Minister of Defence, Wayne Mapp, said he did not know about the programme. Elliott said the biometrics revelations raised questions about what the public had been told.

“For too many years we were fed NZDF press releases with photos of our soldiers delivering supplies to orphanages, or celebratory stories about SAS activities which glossed over the complex mess of flawed intelligence gathering, excessive use of force resulting in civilian deaths, and human rights abuses by the Afghan National Security Forces which characterised the military activities in Afghanistan throughout this period.”

Jones justified the biometric data collection as being integral for identifying known or suspected insurgents.

“This was a zone that was insecure, we needed to track people. It was almost . . . ‘martial law’, but the rules of the country at the time were that this is necessary for the Afghan police to know who’s in the area”.

But Elliott said the Defence Force had a very real responsibility to take into account to whom the intelligence was going to be supplied, and whether or not those agencies or governments had a track record of respect for fundamental human rights and the rules of law.

“The US intelligence agencies and military forces unfortunately don’t have a great track record on either, and Afghanistan hasn’t proven to be an exception to that.”

In Afghanistan, Stuff Circuit spoke to a former New Zealand patrol commander who also defended the use of biometric data collection, although conceded it was a tough question. “It’s a useful tool in terms of sorting out who may have involved in incidents and who’s not involved”.

However a former Afghan parliamentarian, Moeen Marastial, questioned New Zealand’s role in the controversial programme, saying “Why are they taking bio data from me if I am innocent?”

He said Afghans knew the New Zealand soldiers’ role in Afghanistan was as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

“They are in Afghanistan for reconstruction, for rebuilding, working for the roads, working for the schools, working for the hospitals. That’s why it will be questionable to the people of Afghanistan. Taking biometric data is not reconstruction in Afghanistan.”

Mapp, who was Minister of Defence from 2008-2011, told Stuff Circuit he did not know our soldiers were involved in the programme, but he too defended it, saying, “I’m not entirely surprised either because I suspect they were doing that of people that they might have felt there was a degree of risk and they need to be able to track them and put them in the database.”

He said questioning New Zealand’s involvement in the programme was “frankly naive, because obviously ISAF have to know about the insurgency.”

Afghan Raid Protest Calls for Independent Inquiry
A protest to commemorate Afghan civilians
allegedly killed during a raid involving New Zealand
soldiers was been held in Wellington

Radio New Zealand

Author and journalist Nicky Hager at the protest by the Hit and Run Inquiry Campaign. Photo: RNZ / Mervin Johnson

(August 22, 2017) — Today was the seventh anniversary of the raid in August 2010.

The Hit and Run Inquiry Campaign organised the protest and repeated a call called for the government to hold an independent inquiry. Last week, lawyers acting for the Afghan villagers caught in the raid involving the SAS went to the High Court to calling for a probe.

Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book Hit and Run published earlier this year alleged several civilians were killed or injured in the raid. The Defence Force questioned the authors’ claims, and the government ruled out an inquiry.

In April, Prime Minister Bill English said there was no basis for an inquiry.

Campaign member Marianne Elliot said the 40-strong protest demonstrated ongoing public interest despite the refusal to hold an inquiry.

Mr. Hager, who addressed the crowd, said the Defence Force still claimed that nothing went wrong. “By not fronting up, the Defence Force will have ultimately made it worse for themselves,” he said.

Peace Action Wellington member Laura Drew told the crowd the government had tried to sweep the issue under the rug. Campaign supporter Adrian Leason said New Zealand had a habit of not commemorating tragedies involving New Zealanders.

He said the protesters were calling on politicians to be courageous and provide moral leadership. “They are not elected to cover up mistakes and tragedies. Their job is to bring the truth out into the light.”

Mr. Hager said he was certain the truth of what happened during the raid would come out in the next couple of years. “Politicians need to decide what side of history they want to be on.”

Defence Force Must Explain Villagers’ Treatment
By SAS — Former PM Helen Clark

Paula Penfold and Eugene Bingham / Stuff

(August 21 2017) — Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is calling on military chiefs to front up over allegations surrounding a 2004 SAS firefight, saying, “I would not consider behaviour along the lines described acceptable.”

The Stuff Circuit documentary series The Valley uncovers concerns raised by senior military sources about what happened before and after the gunfight in Uruzgan, which led to Willie Apiata being awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery under fire. He carried a seriously wounded soldier 70 metres across a battlefield through enemy fire.

Clark, who was prime minister at the time, told Stuff Circuit she has “no recollection whatsoever of hearing of the events alleged to have occurred before and after the firefight involving Willie Apiata and his colleagues”.

She said Willie Apiata’s action was one of heroism.

“I do think, however, that the New Zealand Defence Force should respond to the allegations made by villagers about the treatment they received before and after the firefight occurred. The behaviour described would not in my opinion meet the standard expected of New Zealand Defence Force personnel.”

At the time Apiata was decorated, Clark said, “This is a very proud moment for the SAS, for the New Zealand Defence Force and for New Zealand.”

But sources in New Zealand spoken to by Stuff Circuit said the military framing of the 2004 firefight was very specific, and they believed the public should know there was more to it than has ever been revealed by the Defence Force.

They question the official version — that the New Zealanders came under surprise attack — and ask whether the firefight needed to happen at all.

Those sources are not questioning Apiata’s courage and are not saying he didn’t deserve the VC.

The Defence Force has repeatedly refused to be interviewed by Stuff Circuit for The Valley investigation, despite being supplied with extensive details of topics to be covered.

Stuff Circuit travelled to Afghanistan in April and interviewed villagers who wanted to tell their side of the story, “because we were afflicted, oppressed, and unjust things happened to us”.

The villagers describe how troopers arrived in their village bazaar, creating a lot of dust, so the villagers gathered around.

“They were probably offended so they kicked, slapped and punched us . . . They cursed and used abusive words towards the people. They said, ‘You guys are Taliban and we will come back again tomorrow’.”

They say the troopers left and set up camp on the side of a hill not far away. During the night, the villagers heard loud fighting. It is believed this was the firefight in which Apiata earned his VC.

The villagers say the following morning what they describe as “tanks” rolled back into the village bazaar.

“Six tanks came. Each tank had a body . . . They dropped the bodies down, they then tied our hands behind our backs.” The ties the villagers are referring to are known in the military as ‘flexi-cuffs’.

“Then they searched the houses. Children were screaming and [the troopers] yelled, kicked the doors, and broke the locks and doors.” The villagers had also said around 15 or 16 men were tied up. One said when his hands were tied behind his back he was forced to kneel against the wall.

“One guy was guarding me, pointing his gun to me saying ‘Don’t turn your face’. I was thinking that they will take me to their tank and will take me away.”

Asked if he was scared, he said “Yes, I was scared”. The second villager said “Yes, why wouldn’t we be scared?” The men say they feared for their lives.

The villagers’ account of what happened before and after the firefight accords with what military sources in New Zealand have told Stuff Circuit. They describe it as a Special Forces tactic called “bait and hook”.

They say in this case the ‘bait’ was going into the village and apparently provoking the firefight, and the ‘hook’, that there were more SAS troopers waiting to fight.

Asked whether the people involved in the fight were Taliban or local villagers, or both, one of the men said, “When those foreigners commit disgraceful acts, then the people fight them because they’ve been humiliated . . . People were saying all the foreigners deliberately created problems for the villagers so villagers were forced to fight them.”

The villagers say their elders complained to an Afghan Provincial delegation, but nothing ever came of that complaint.

“We want them [the NZ forces] to be punished for how brutal they were to us. We hadn’t done anything, and everything [that happened] was sudden and unjustified. They should be investigated.”

One of the men said he also had a wider motivation for giving his account of what had happened.

“I came here so that our voice could be heard and the same things do not happen to us again, and the cruel are punished. That Afghanistan gets peace and stability, and injustice stops.”

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